Lanny by Max Porter

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Well I am a huge fan of Max Porter, his writing to me is always a joy to read as he has such a hold over the written word with his prose being quite poetic, with each word fighting for its right to be included in the storytelling, and the deftly constructed prose he offers is a given. Porter also has the uncanny ability to spin a story which is never quite what it seems on the surface.

With Lanny Porter brings us a huge slice of ‘Folk Horror‘, a fable of an unsettling nature, which centres around a young boy called Lanny and the folk figure of Dead Papa Toothwort – a being who has stalked this quiet little town for many generations, feeding off of its symphony of sounds, conversations, arguments, declarations of love, hate, animosity, depravity. Dead Papa Toothwort hears it all and is back and a word of warning, he’s as ravenous as ever. But there is one voice, that tastes sweeter than all the rest, one person at the top of his menu…that being Lanny. 

Dead Papa Toothwort knows himself, and he has felt the tightening-itch, and now is the time, he crawls towards the living, climbs under Spring Lane and washes along so he can come right up under the village street, so he can float belly-up under them and sip the bath water and shit, fat-clumps and grit, a dark attentive voyeur…

Porter has created a book in three parts. The first part of the book delves into the mythology of Dead Papa Toothwort and is a compelling read as Porter creates and weaves an interesting narrative, using a fabulous tool in the physical look of the book and the way the words appear on the page. The font changes into a flowing text across the page, various voices, the snippets of conversation seem to flit and flow across the page, merge together, ebbing and bubbling around – creating the sense of depth of sound that surrounds this little sleepy town and which brings Dead Papa Toothwort to the banquet before him. It’s experimental writing, and experimental in it’s construction – reminiscent of George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo) and Patrick Ness (The Chaos Walking Trilogy) – but it is also unique in its own way, with these sections blending perfectly with the character we are discovering and learning about, finding out what makes it tick and what it most desires.

The construction of each section of the book follows the lives of Lanny, Lanny’s Mum, Lanny’s Dad, Dead Papa Toothwort and Pete – and again this tool of showing us the scene or the fallout of the ongoing story from different vantage points is refreshing and lends the book a fast frenetic readability. A tool which reaches breakneck speed in the second third of the book – and which for me was the best part (if we put aside all the experimental crazy – which I loved – which litters the first third of the book).    

Gingerly down the stairs. Nothing. The words in my brain from the script of terrified male homeowners, ‘come on then, you fucking fuck’ and the bladder-squirm because I have no actual defensive power, I am not brave, I do not fight, have never fought, I work in asset management and only fight in subtle ways on Microsoft Outlook. I’m terrified.

The second third of the book is an amalgamation of the town’s stream of consciousness, giving us a glimpse into Dead Papa Toothwort’s world with its constant noise and conversations. It’s a mess, but a beautiful mess. In this second third there are no letterheads telling us who is talking (as in the first third of the book), no indication to us as a reader who is uttering these words – but every now and again either Lanny’s Dad, Lanny’s Mum, Pete or the next door neighbour pop up and you’re grounded in the familiar once again. It’s an exquisite tool which Porter wields so well, giving us the views of the townsfolk at blistering pace, each one with their own view, agenda, or own social commentary about the situation that has befallen Lanny’s family and Lanny himself. 

Final third of the book was a slight disappointment, with the previous two thirds being majestic in their execution. It had been built and paced so well, but to me the final third seemed a little underdeveloped given all that has gone before. The power of the book, the conclusion that seems to be rushing towards us seems to get lost in the ambiguity of the ending. But, having said this Lanny is still a fabulous read and it’s brilliant to see someone really pushing their craft, straining it to breaking and creating a work of art out of words, as well as a spinning an unforgettable tale.

Lanny examines life, family and the moral fibres which hold everything together – whilst also being a most beguiling and stylistically read. With Lanny Porter is a worthy challenger to George Saunders experimental crown and I am sure that Porter and Lanny will be appearing on the awards circuit pretty soon.

Lanny is published by Faber & Faber and is available here.

Max Porter

Max Porter’s first novel, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers won the Sunday Times/Peter, Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year, the International Dylan Thomas Prize, the Europese Literatuurprijs and the BAMB Readers’ Award and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Goldsmiths Prize. It has been sold in twenty-nine territories. Complicité and Wayward’s production of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers directed by Enda Walsh and starring Cillian Murphy opened in Dublin in March 2018. Max lives in Bath with his family.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

You can read our review of Grief Is The Thing With Feathers here.

You can read our interview with Max Porter here.

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